Nepal: Activists Making Progress in Fight to Eradicate “Kamlari” System of Indentured Servitude
Wednesday, July 18, 2012 1:50 PM

Under the Kamlari system, poor, lower caste ethnic Tharu families ‘lease’ their daughters to higher caste landowners and brokers. Their families are paid as little as $30 a year in exchange for the girls’ labor. The kamlaris, some as young as six years old, are expected to work long hours and to carry out a wide range of physically demanding chores for the richer family. Many are abused, and reports of beatings or rape of kamlaris are common. UNICEF has condemned the practice as a violation of these children’s human rights.
This practice continues even though Nepal officially abolished slavery 90 years ago. However, on Nepal’s southwestern plains indentured servitude lives on through the “kamlari” or “kamaiya” system. Activists are gaining ground in their struggle to eradicate the practice, which was outlawed by the country’s Supreme Court in 2006. Charity groups have rescued thousands of girls, some of whom have become activists themselves.
Ten years ago it was estimated that as many as 14,000 girls were working as kamlaris. Today, thanks partly to the work of activists in Nepal and internationally, that number has fallen to approximately 1,000 according to the US-based Nepal Youth Foundation.
The Nepalese government is working with the International Labour Organization on a master plan to eradicate the worst forms of child labor by 2016. However, according to Gauri Pradhan of the National Human Rights Commission, Nepal still has a long way to go to effectively end child labor.